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Culture Guide

Christmas food traditions around the world

19 December 2023

World Christmas

From KFC to throwing shrimps on the barbie, let’s explore some seasonal feasts.

Ever wondered what people around the world are eating while you’re tucking into your turkey?

Are we the only nation to endure sprouts on Christmas day? Is everyone as obsessed about gravy as us? We wondered the same. So we took a (virtual) trip to look at traditional Christmas food around the world to inspire the festive season. Starting with Puerto Rico…

Slow-roasted Pernil in Puerto Rico

In the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, cooking the Christmas roast low and slow is a family tradition. While the main celebration is on Christmas Eve or La Nochebuena, preparing the Pernil can begin days earlier. A large pork joint is marinated with a mix of oregano, salt, olive oil, peppercorns, garlic, and other spices. Then it’s slow-roasted until the meat is tender enough to fall off your fork, and the skin turns into deliciously golden chicharrones (crackling). Pernil is traditionally served with ‘arroz con gandules (orange rice with pigeon peas) and pasteles’, which are a Puerto Rican version of tamales wrapped in banana leaves.

Panettone with Brazilian flair 

Everyone loves a Panettone at Christmas, but in Brazil they naturally give this sweet bread dessert a South American twist. With its light and fluffy texture, the Panettone is studded with plump raisins, candied fruits, and hints of citrus zest. But what really sets the Brazilian version apart is its tropical twist, with exotic fruits including coconut, pineapple, and guava. Then it’s all about the dressings, pour on a mixture of chocolate and cream and then top that with ice-cream and caramel.

 A delightful Danish dessert

It’s all about the rice in Denmark’s traditional festive dessert, Risamalande. The name is derived from the French ‘Riz à l’amande’, meaning rice with almonds. Creamy rice pudding mixed with vanilla and crunchy almonds is topped by a warm cherry sauce, adding a burst of fruity sweetness. On Christmas Eve, a whole almond is added and whoever finds it first will receive an extra gift. It’s traditional for children to leave a bowl of Risamalande outside for Nisser, the Christmas elves. Finding an empty bowl in the morning is proof that Nisser are real.

It’s always Braai time in South Africa  

In South Africa, you don’t need a special occasion to break out the Braai. But on Christmas Day, many families will gather around an open fire outdoors to barbecue the festive feast. And no Braai is complete without Boerewors, a traditional South African sausage made of beef, pork or lamb that’s rolled into a continuous spiral. By law, Boerewors must be at least 90% meat with no more than 30% fat. It is often served with pap, a hearty  porridge made with polenta or mealie-meal.

Paella with a Filipino twist

In the Philippines, no Christmas celebration is complete without the popular paella, Arroz Valenciana. A twist on the original Spanish version, which uses short grain rice, Filipinos prefer to use the thick and soft malagkit, or glutinous white rice, as a base. Then boneless chicken or chorizo is typically thrown in, along with bell peppers, green peas and tomatoes. Instead of chicken broth, Filipinos favour sweet, rich coconut milk, and local spices including safflower (kasubha) and annatto seed (atsuete) or turmeric, add the aromatic flavour and sunshine colour to brighten up the festivities.

A warm start to the day in Finland

This dish is simple but super warming – which is just as well as the average temperature in Finland is  -4°C. Finnish rice porridge is traditionally eaten for breakfast on Christmas Eve. It was once made from barley or grit, but it now tends to be made from rice. It’s boiled with milk or made in the oven (depending on where you are) – and served with cinnamon and sugar, a plum sauce, or a mix of boiled dried fruits. In some cases, a blanched almond is hidden in the pot. If you’re lucky enough to find it in your bowl, you’re granted good fortune for the coming year.

Rice is twice as nice in Nigeria

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to Christmas in Nigeria, except that rice is a core ingredient for feeding friends, family and loved ones. As one of the most popular Nigerian meals, Jollof rice is a star at the festive table, especially as it’s quick to cook, packs in tonnes of flavour, and you can make plenty enough for leftovers or for guests to take away. Likewise, fragrant fried rice is often served up with tasty side dishes, like chicken stew, fried plantains, salad and coleslaw.  

Fancy trying something a little different this year? Find our Jollof rice recipes here.

Kentucky for Christmas in Japan

While Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, they still have their own festive traditions – including tucking into a bucket of KFC. It all began in 1970 when Takeshi Okawara overheard foreign customers saying they couldn’t get turkey for Christmas, so ate fried chicken instead. The idea quickly became the famous advertising campaign ‘Kentucky for Christmas’. The most popular menu item is the KFC Party Bucket, with generous portions of fried chicken, a selection of sides and even a cake.

Deliciously diverse dishes in India

With such a diverse mix of traditions and culture, a Christmas menu in India is never boring. Some households may enjoy a plate of Nga Atoiba Thongba – a type of fish curry with potatoes and pears – served alongside steamed rice. For others it might be a chicken or mutton biryani. Wherever it’s celebrated, tables are often laden with meats, breads, sticky and spiced rice sides, and plenty of sweets – like plum Christmas cakes and kheer rice pudding, flavoured with coconut, raisins and nuts.

Our Kheer rice pudding will add something a bit special to the table, the full recipe can be found here.

Hangi-ing about in New Zealand

Unlike the jumper-clutching, breath-fogging mornings of Christmas as we know it, New Zealand’s festive celebration comes in the middle of summer. Rather than having a hot lunch sitting around a table, many New Zealanders opt for a BBQ or seaside picnic, heroing local produce and sublime seafood, served with refreshing salads and flavour-punching rice sides. 

For Maori families, a traditional hangi could be the preferred way to come together to celebrate the day. Hangi is a method of underground cooking where baskets of meat and vegetables, wrapped in flax or banana leaves, are placed on top of preheated stones, covered with a wet cloth and buried in the earth for several hours. 

Family, spice and style in Jamaica

In Jamaica, Christmas is a time for family, friends and getting together with loved ones – and food is at the heart of this tradition. For most Jamaicans, Christmas morning starts with a traditional breakfast of boiled bananas, ackee, saltfish and breadfruit. Then for dinner, the real stars of the table are lovingly prepared dishes like baked ham studded with pineapple, curried goat, stewed pork and oxtail – all served with rice and seasonal gungo peas. And you can’t be expected to enjoy a slice of rum-soaked black cake without a glass of sweet sorrel wine (Jamaica’s version of mulled wine) on the side.

Are you tempted to swerve the sprouts this year? We hope our Christmas dinners around the world inspired you.

Wherever you are, we wish you a lovely festive period and a very Happy New Year.